Thursday, 22 January 2015

Jordi Savall in Bach and Vivaldi

Magnificat & Concerti - Jordi Savall
Bach & Vivaldi concertos and magnificats; La Capella Reaila de Catalunya, Le Concert des Nations, Jordi Savall; AliaVox
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 09 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Vibrant performances from Jordi Savall his training academy

This disc from Alia Vox is the fruits of the Third Academy of Professional Training for Musical Research and Performance in Barcelona in June 2013, with concerts recorded live at the Chapelle Royale of Versailles and the performers combine soloists from La Capella Reial de Catalunya, twenty young professional singers and Le Concert des Nations all conducted by Jordi Savall. They perform Vivaldi's Magnificat in G minor, and Bach's Magnificat in D major.  To these is added two recordings by Savall and Le Concert des Nations, the recording of Vivaldi's Concerto in G minor  for two violins, and viola da gamba RV578 recorded at Cardona, Catalonia in 2003 and Bach's Concerto for harpsichord in D minor BWV1052 recorded at Fontfroide Festival in 2013. The disc also comes with a DVD of performances of the magnificats and the harpsichord concerto.

The disc opens with Vivaldi' concerto for two violins and viola da gamba. The work starts with an atmospheric slow introduction with a bleak edge to the solo violins, followed by a perky allegro. The solemn middle movement, Larghetto, is rather chordal like the introduction and not at all how one thinks of a Vivaldi slow movement. The finale, Allegro, is again nicely perky. The soloists are very much primus inter pares, and not spot lit with the viola d gamba retreating rather into the general texture.

Vivaldi's Magnificat starts off  with a solemn and impressive choral opening. The piece interweaves choral and solo moments, with fewer large scale arias than Bach's version, which is in many ways very similar (Bach knew Vivaldi's setting). The larger scale choral moments are grand, but not over blown with a nice compact intensity to them. Fecit potentiam has a nice fiery drama both choir and orchestra. The Esurientes is a soprano/alto duet with the soloists providing slim voiced charm and find passagework. After another grand choral moment for Suscepit Israel, the soloists  return for a characterful Sicut locutus est before the final choral movements concluding with a lively fugue.

I have to confess that my heart rather sank when I saw that the second companion work was a Bach harpsichord concerto as too often modern performances of these seem to fail. To my ears either the the harpsichord sound is not well captured, or the instrument itself is too reticent. But here everything works superbly, from the first notes by soloist Pierre Hantai it is clear that the harpsichord is a solo instrument with a nice strong tone and he is given plenty of space by Savall. This is one of the best Bach harpsichord concerto recordings I have heard in a long time. A vigorous Allegro with the performers really digging into the notes, is followed by a sombre Adagio where a unison develops into something interesting, and a swaggering final Allegro.

Bach's Magnificat opens with a fine instrumental introduction in which there is nice balance between the instruments so that the colours of Bach's lines really come through. As in the Vivaldi, the choral singing is excellent with a real vibrancy, plus a sense of care for the details. Johannette Zommer sings the Et exultavit soprano solo with poise, care and infectiousness. Hanna Bayodi-Hirt is plangent in the Quia respexit solo with a lovely oboe solo. Omnes gentes nicely vigorous, followed by a fabulous bass solo from Stephan MacLeod. Et misericordia goes with a nice lilt, with soloists Damien Guillon and David Munderloh providing a nice combination of vocal blend and character. Fecit potentiam and following tenor solo (from David Munderloh) both have a lovely swagger to them, and Munderloh combines good runs with a nice easy top. Esurientes has gentle expressive flutes and an really characterful alto solo. A beautiful Suscepit Israel is followed by a pair of choral movements full of vigour and swagger. There are lots of good things in this performance but what I liked most about it was the sense of swagger which Savall brings to the grander moments. It isn't a pompous performance, and Savall has drawn some very vital music making from his varied forces.

The CD booklet is substantial, mainly because it has the text in French, English, German, Spanish, Catalan and Italian, plus ample photographs. The DVD contains related performances of the magnificats and the Bach concerto performed by the same forces. The DVD is quite basic, with no extras, but it provides a wonderful visual record of Savall's direction and the performers.

This was always going to be a memorable disc, nothing Jordi Savall does is boring. But the music making on this disc captures the very vitality of the live performance in just the right way.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741) - Concerto con 2 violini e viola da gamba,archi e continuo RV578
Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741) - Magnificat in G minor RV610
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750) - Concerto for harpsichord in D minor, BWV 1052
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750) - Magnificat in D major BWV 243
Manfredo Kraemer (violin)
Riccardo Kraemer (violin)
Pablo Valetti (violin)
Jordi Savall (viola da gamba)
Hanna Bayodi-Hirt (soprano)
Johannette Zommer (soprano)
Damien Guillon (counter-tenor)
David Munderloh (tenor)
Stephan MacLeod (baritone)
La Capella Reial de Catalunya
Le Concert des Nations
Jordi Savall (conductor)
Recorded live Chapelle Royalle of Versailles, 28-29 June 2013 (Magnificats),
Vivaldi concerto recorded 2003, Cardona, Catalonia,
Bach concerto recorded 2013, Fontfroide Festival

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